This month, we have been discussing the process of asking for help. So far, we have broken this process down into three discrete events – noticing when we need help, asking for the help we need, and accepting that help when it arrives.
The fourth and final facet of asking for help comes as we learn to discern the help we need from the help we don’t. So in this final blog post in our “asking for help” series, we will examine what to do with offers for help we don’t need.
Imagine for a moment that you’ve been lost in the desert. You have been wandering around, looking for water. Everywhere you look, what appears to be a water source turns into yet another mirage. Finally, after days of wandering, you at last see a source of genuine water up ahead. You walk closer, closer, you break into run…..only to pull yourself up short when you realize….it’s the ocean.
You’ve found water, just not the right kind.
Accepting offers of help we don’t need is like drinking salty ocean water to quench our thirst. It is not only unproductive – it can be downright dangerous as well.
Furthermore, it is disrespectful to ourselves, because if we have made it this far in this blog series, we have earned our “asking for help” stripes, and we know when we need help and when we don’t, and what we need it for. We may even be starting to get comfortable with accepting help when it arrives.
But what do we do with help we simply don’t need? And why might we accept help we don’t need?
Let’s take an example. Let’s say that last weekend you had your pre-wedding shower. This afternoon, your soon-to-be mother-in-law with the illegible handwriting offers to help you write your wedding shower thank you notes….and you don’t know how to respond. On the one hand, you don’t want to do anything to damage a new family connection that will be in your life for years to come. Yet this will double your workload, and with all you still have to do to prepare for the wedding, you can already visualize yourself spending precious free time surreptitiously re-writing dozens of thank you cards and sneaking out to the mail box to pop them in when your mother-in-law-to-be isn’t looking.
So what should you do?
You could certainly graciously decline her offer, and explain that you already have everything well in hand. But the truth is, you don’t. You do need help in plenty of other areas as you prepare for your upcoming wedding – yet clearly the task she has volunteered to help you with is not the right task for her. So how about finding something else – some other way that your new mother-in-law could be of service?
One strategy you could try follows a simple four step approach I have often suggested to clients over the years:
- Thank the offering individual sincerely for their offer of help
- Let them know you will think about it, and get back with them
- In the meantime (or on the spot if something comes to mind right away) decide if there is something they could do that would truly help you, and if so, let them know what it is and ask if they would be willing to offer that help instead
- If the answer to number three above is a simple “no”, communicate that to them with gratitude and let them know you will surely contact them if you need help with that task or others in the future.
As we learn and practice new skills for how to identify and accept the help we do need, and how to graciously redirect or decline the help we do not need, we can begin to feel truly empowered in our relationships with ourselves and others.
At Southlake Counseling, we offer a wealth of personalized individual and group support services to help individuals just like you learn to access the courage and power to navigate your need for help self-supportively and effectively. If you are struggling to say no and yes to offers of help in self-respecting, empowering ways, we encourage you to contact us at www.southlakecounseling.com.